Well, the acceptance letters from the selective enrollment public high schools in Chicago have been sent out, and there has been much rejoicing and gnashing of teeth. In our house, we’re doing the rejoicing thing. Liam has been accepted to Northside College Prep, the odds against which are very very long, even for a bright kid. The odds were so long, in fact, that we simply weren’t counting on it. It was in our list of options, of course, but that list was long and exhaustive. Realistically, we concentrated on him going to St. Ignatius, the top Catholic high school around here, which accepted him a couple weeks ago. That required me wrapping my head around a lot of issues–of faith, of my own past in Catholic schools, of finance and transportation–but I actually grew very comfortable with and excited about the idea. I’d be proud for him to go to Ignatius and do well. (I was also looking forward to eating often in nearby Little Italy, but now I’ll have to start investigating the kabob houses near Northside Prep.)
Then the public schools come through and throw our plans out of whack.
There’s no use explaining the process by which the Chicago Public Schools chooses students for their seven selective enrollment schools. Describe it to anyone who lives in any other school district, and all you’ll get is a puzzled look and a sad shake of the head. It puts more pressure on eighth graders than being accepted into college, and it breaks the hearts of a lot of B+ and A- students when they don’t get chosen for one of the 2700 openings (the official number of applicants for those openings is 12,000, but most of us suspect the number is a lot higher and the CPS keeps a lid on it because the system would look even more ridiculous and unfair than it already does). From what I gather in conversations, there’s a lot of anger and disappointment running through Liam’s eighth grade class right now. One girl spent days telling her friends that she was accepted into Walter Peyton College Prep, when in reality she wasn’t accepted into any of the schools she applied to.
And in three years we get to spin this wheel all over again when Liesel starts looking at high schools. By that time, the ground rules and playing field will be different, due to demographics and budgets and probably lawsuits against the CPS. Maybe she’ll be the one to go to St. Ignatius–the social scientist in me still wants to see one of my kids undergo a Jesuit education–or maybe by then we’ll move out of the city.
It’s still hard to believe it’s over, and that we got into the school we wanted (and frankly, we were trying our best to keep everything calm even as we pushed Liam to excel in the grades and tests that mattered). He’ll get a chance to perform at a very high level, with a school full of other motivated kids. At the same time, it’s a shame that other motivated kids in his school have the choice of paying to go to Catholic high school or going to the local public high school, which of course has suffered because the good teachers and the top students have been siphoned off to the showcase schools. And it’s a shame that they might have feelings of failure from this fiasco. The CPS could open a dozen other selective enrollment schools and fill them all, without test scores sinking very low. And what about the B or C students at regular public school? What kind of high school alternatives do they get? (Don’t answer, it’s too depressing.)
Living in the city: expensive, complicated, stressful and morally suspect.
But at least we can walk to restaurants!
UPDATE: Liam and I went to the welcome and orientation meeting last night. It was one of the happiest gatherings of people ever, because of course all our longshots came through. Saw an old friend or two whose kid proved to be an undisputed genius like Liam (even though we dads both remember when they were eating dirt on the playground). The principal of the school said that 18,000 kids take the CPS selective enrollment exam (for the 2,700 slots open), and that 6,000 applied to Northpark. Of those 6K, 277 will show up next fall as freshmen. So, for every seat in the class, 22 other bright kids are vying for the spot. Think there’s a little pent-up demand there?